Archive for the ‘George W. Bush’ Category

The Whitewash Convention

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

Bill Maher on the Republican Convention Whitewash of the Bush years.

No Bush, no Cheney, no Rumsfeld, no Bachman, John McCain relegated to a short speech out of prime time and Sarah Palin was not only not invited to the convention, but her scheduled appearances on Fox were cancelled as well, leaving her sitting in Alaska whining to the country on Facebook.  

 

 

Tax Cuts Do Not Pay For Themselves

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

With the Bush tax cuts about to expire and Democrats planning to make the argument over extending Bush tax cuts for the rich a key to their positioning for the November elections, there has been an increased focus on the effects of all of Bush’s tax cuts.

In defending the extentions the Republicans have backed themselves into a bit of a rhetorical corner. Specifically, they just spent two years complaining incessantly about the $9 trillion dollar deficit that Obama has somehow created in just two years (as if they were asleep during the previous 8 years) and now they are proposing to continue the tax policies that have significantly contributed to those deficits. In an attempt to justify this irresponsible policy, a number of Republicans have fallen back on the familiar supply-side argument from the Reagan years that “tax cuts pay for themselves.”

In addition to this general statement, I have also heard from some Republicans recently that “there was no revenue problem” during the Bush years and that if spending hadn’t increased at the time, Bush would have been able to balance the budget. While that may be technically true, it fundamentally ignores the fact that the Bush tax cuts tacked on an additional trillion and a half to a budget that was aleady bloated by recession and two wars (wars that almost all Republicans supported).

A few minutes of Google research was enough to dispel the fantasy that tax cuts pay for themselves. Studies by both the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the free market Heritage Foundation have both pegged the cost of the Bush tax cuts at close to $1.7 trillion over a ten year period. Even the most conservative estimates of the stimulative power of the tax cuts assume that they would have created a 25% increase in tax revenues during that period, making the cost of those tax cuts at least $1.3 trillion (if not more).

Going forward, the cost of extending the Bush tax cuts for all income brackets is estimated at $3 trillion over 10 years.

So now Republicans–who complained seemingly non-stop for two years about how Obama had created trillion dollar deficits–are in the position of running for office on a plan to keep all the Bush tax cuts in place, but not providing any plan to offset the estimated $3 trillion revenue loss.

This dichotomy was on display pretty dramatically on Meet the Press last Sunday. The week before David Gregory had Alan Greenspan on and had asked the former Fed Chairman if he favored extending the Bush tax cuts. “I’m very much in favor of tax cuts but not with borrowed money” he said, “and the problem that we have gotten into in recent years is spending programs with borrowed money, tax cuts with borrowed money; and at the end of the day that proves disastrous.”

Gregory probed more: “you don’t agree with Republican leaders who say tax cuts pay for themselves?”

“They do not,” replied Greenspan. 

When Boehner was on last Sunday, Gregory played Greenspan’s clip from the week before and asked him how he could be concerned about the deficit, but at the same time in favor of extending the Bush tax cuts indefinitely.

“Do tax cuts pay for themselves?” Gregory asked.

Boehner was evasive, but Gregory kept at him until he burst out that Gregory wanted to “get into this Washington game…and their funny accounting over there.” 

Nice try Boehner, but this isn’t a Washington game, and it’s not a trick question to ask if you have a plan to pay for the $3 trillion in tax cuts that you are proposing, especially if you just spent the past two years blaming Obama and Pelosi for the deficit.

We just finished a long debate over the health care reform bill and the Republicans’ main argument was that we couldn’t afford to move toward universal health care and that they didn’t like (or believe in)  the way it was financed. That’s fair enough, I didn’t like how it was financed either, but it was financed, which is more than we can say about extending the Bush tax cuts, or the Medicare prescription drug benefit that the Republicans passed under Bush.

We are closing out 30 years of history in which the Republicans have consistently said that they would cut government, but when push came to shove, just cut taxes and let government increase in size. Does anyone think that we should just trust these guys to do the right thing this time?…and more importantly, if anyone does believe that they have a plan to balance the budget, don’t we deserve to know what that plan would look like?

As I’ve said before, I think that there are good arguments to maintain low taxes for the next couple of years to stimulate the economy (I would rather see the income tax cuts be replaced by a short-term payroll tax holiday), but we are facing a $9 trillion deficit over the next ten years and neither party seems serious about the changes that will need to be made. Canceling  the tax cuts would slash that deficit by one third overnight and make the job of deficit reduction significantly less daunting.

Americans need to understand that hard choices (on both benefits and taxes) need to be made, and we should have a debate that illuminates this reality. The politicians are doing what they always do. Obama promised not to raise taxes on the middle class, so he’s in favor of extending the tax cuts for everyone but the top 2%. Republicans like low taxes more than they hate deficits, so they’re in favor of adding on another $700 billion over 10 years for the top 2% (while they filibuster jobless benefits because “we can’t afford them”). Both sides complain about deficits, but both sides are also in a mad dash to stuff the budget full of their individual priorities before they have to start negotiating on what programs to cut and what revenues to raise.

The country deserves a debate on bigger issues instead of a narrow debate along the partisan lines that the parties have layed out. We deserve a rare outbreak of candor from our politicians. 

This may be to much to ask right now, but dispensing with the canard that “tax cuts pay for themselves” is a good start.

Lockbox

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

A few weeks ago, NBC debuted SNL’s Best of the 2000′s. Included was the now classic skit where Al Gore and George W. Bush are asked to sum up their campaign in one word. Gore (Darrel Hammond) thinks a while and then replies in his thick-as-honey Tennessee accent “…Lockbox.” Bush (Will Ferrell), looks straight at the camera and says with Bushlike certainty “Strategery.”

That skit has become iconic, but when I saw it, I was reminded that at least one politician did see the oncoming crisis and had a plan to deal with at least part of it. For the past year and a half (ever since Barack Obama was elected and the Republican’s discovered that deficits were bad), I have wondered many times how we could have gotten into this situation. For years it was clear to anyone who took a look at budget projections that Baby Boomers were going to start retiring and becoming eligible for Medicare and Social Security soon. Entitlement spending would increase at the same time that the number of people paying into the system was going to decrease. This system resembled a ponzi scheme more than a funding mechanism.  Who, I thought to myself, is responsible for the fact that we now are facing this situation and everyone seems to be acting as though it is a surprise to them?

Well, the answer is that we all are. For years, we elected politicians who said that they were going to balance budgets, but when the rubber hit the road, didn’t. Not only did we not kick these people out of office, we encouraged them to act irresponsibly by punishing any politician who promised to increase taxes or actually did increase taxes in order to balance the budget, and we punished any politician that tried to cut benefits by kicking them out of office (Think Walter Mondale in 1984, Gorge HW Bush in 1992, or Congressional Democrats in 1994).

Being good at their profession (getting elected), it didn’t take the politicians long to figure out this game. Anyone who acted responsibly and asked for sacrifice from individuals for the good of the nation was punished, so politicians just gave the voters what they were requesting through their votes: big government and low taxes.

On each side of the aisle, you can see the cynical calculations taking place over the past decades. The Republican strategy was called “Starve the Beast.” The idea was that you would continue to cut taxes so much that there would be no money for social programs. Then when a crisis hit, the “Permanent Majority” that Karl Rove was carving out would cut social programs and say that they had no choice.

The longstanding pattern was pushed to its most outrageous lengths under the Administration of George W. Bush. Bush and Congressional Republicans pushed through close to $1.8 trillion in tax cuts, while at the same time increasing both domestic discretionary spending and fighting two wars. For the first time in American history, taxes were decreased while America was at war. Included among Bush’s increased domestic spending was a ($500 billion over 10 years) Prescription Drug Entitlement Bill. This bill was passed with absolutely no funding.

Think about that for a second. For all of the Republican fulminating about the gimmicky accounting for the funding of the health care bill, at least it has funding. This prescription drug benefit’s costs were tacked on directly to the deficit. Imagine if Obama had tried to do this in 2010. The Republican’s would have tried to gouge his eyes out. In 2003, they barely batted an eyelash.

Republican’s have made stimulus a bad word over the past year and a half, but looking back, the entire Bush presidency looks like a giant stimulus plan, with trillions of dollars being pumped into the economy through tax cuts and increases in government spending.

Like most politicians, Barack Obama learned his lessons from this history. Not to be outdone by Republican’s, Obama ran on a platform of rescinding the Bush tax cuts for the top income tax bracket, but leaving in place all other Bush tax cuts. In addition, he also proposed an additional tax cut of $500 for individuals and $1000 for families not among the top 5% of earners, even if those families or individuals only paid payroll taxes for the year.

The Democrats in Congress and President Obama followed up their tax cuts (slightly cut down and lasting for only two years) with a long awaited plan to move the country toward providing the benefit of health care that every other industrialized country has. But instead of having a real debate about the coming deficit avalanche, they pushed through Health Care Reform with a budget that was narrow enough to fund the specific plan, while ignoring the fixes that will be needed for the coming crisis. In fact, as funding for half of their plan, they used $500 billion of cuts in Medicare services over a 10 year period. While this technically qualifies as funding, it basically cuts an existing “entitlement” program that is in crisis to fund a new entitlement. The tactics here are different, but the strategy is the same: put a popular status quo (near universal health care) on the table as the starting point for negotiations.

The cumulative result of this recklessness is dramatic. In 2010, tax rates were the lowest that they have been in 50 years (47% of people paid no federal income tax) and federal spending was the highest it has ever been. Not coincidentally, deficits were also at record highs.

To be fair, much of this is an artifact of the unprecedented steps the government has made to keep us out of a Great Depression and I support many of them. In the short term deficits are appropriate and necessary. But for the long term, we need a plan to get our accounts back in balance.

In a recent debate with my conservative uncle, he tagged me for always referring to Bush Tax cuts as “Tax Cuts for the Rich” and pointed out that everyone got a tax cut under Bush (although, to be fair, the rich got hell of a lot more). “Do you support rescinding the Bush Tax cuts for the other 95% of the population,” he asked (assuming that he knew the answer). I thought about it for a second and then responded: Yes. Yes, of course. Because this is a huge crisis and what’s at stake is the future of America.

Look, I know what it feels like to get a check that barely pays your bills and then have the government take more out of it. And I’m sure that if I was lucky enough to be making over $200K, it wouldn’t be fun to have 40% taken out of my paycheck from that point forward. But as conservatives like to say, “Freedom Aint Free.” You can’t maintain a military that polices the globe and provide even the lamest social safety net for 300 million people without raising a lot of revenue.

So I’m open to ideas on how to solve this mess, but I think we need to level with ourselves and accept that it can’t be done without cuts in spending as well as tax increases. If anyone tells you something different, they’re either lying or they don’t know what they’re talking about.

The bottom line here is that, for years, politicians acted irresponsibly and voters allowed them to or even encouraged them to continue those policies. For the past few decades, the question shouldn’t have been “how big of a deficit should we be running,” but “how much of a surplus do we need to be saving so that we don’t have to face a massive fiscal crisis once the Baby Boomers retire?”

Unfortunately, for the past decades we didn’t ask those questions, our politicians didn’t encourage us to ask those questions and the media was (as always) asleep at the switch. Now we face the worst of both worlds. Just as we are recovering from the worst recession since the Great Depression, we are going to be forced to make tough choices that will necessitate sacrifice from all of us.

I don’t expect any progress to be made on this in the months ahead. Requests for sacrifice will not be on the minds of too many congressmen in the months before the election. But the months after the election will be key. Whether the Democrats maintain control of the House is an open question. But certainly, the House will be more conservative in 2011. Soon after their election, the new Congress will be splashed in the face with a cold bucket of water called the Simpson/Bowles Budget Deficit Reduction Commission. In it will be a plan to cut deficits to $550 billion by 2015. The debate that follows should highlight the crisis that we are in…as well as the stakes of failure. It will allow us to take real measure of the seriousness that our elected leaders bring to their job. As we watch the debate unfold, we are going to see whether each party can finally live up to the rhetoric it has espoused for years. We will finally see if Republicans are really concerned about deficits, or if they just want tax cuts. We will finally see if Democrats are willing to ask Americans to sacrifice for the benefits that they have supported for years through borrowing.

The results should be illuminating.

Time for Leadership, Mr. President

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Along with the rest of America, I have watched the ever present images of the oil leaking from this gusher with a mixture of disbelief, rage, sadness and a sense of hopelessness. Much has been made of President Obama’s responsibility for the spill and his reaction to it.

As far as his “responsibility” for the actual spill, I think that most American’s are wiling to give him a mulligan on this one. For decades, the people that have been tasked with regulating the oil industry have maintained a “cozy” relationship with the people they were supposed to be regulating. The organization tasked with regulating the oil companies, the Mineral Management Services (MMS) had a giant scandal break in 2008. Among the highlights:

Their alleged improprieties include rigging contracts, working part-time as private oil consultants, and having sexual relationships with – and accepting golf and ski trips and dinners from – oil company employees.

One office manager–while he weren’t busy accepting bribes from the oil companies he was supposed to be regulating– was busy shagging his employees, buying blow from them, snorting meth off of a toaster and getting blow jobs from a subordinate as he drove around the neighborhood.

That being said, as much as Bush’s regulators were in bed (literally) with the people that they were supposed to regulate, this was known before Obama came to office and Ken Salazar’s appointment as Interior Secretary was intended to clean up this mess. Obviously, they didn’t work fast enough to deal with those issues, they didn’t look into the shocking lack of technical progress in the methods of dealing with the deep water drilling spills, and they didn’t even review BP’s plan to deal with spills, which seems to be cut and pasted from an old document.

This is just another example of how in hock the government is to the big corporate interests that it is supposed to regulate. In the year and a half that Obama has been in power, it’s clear that it wasn’t a priority to make real change on this front. In fact, Obama’s approval of additional offshore drilling (as a way to gain support for his Climate Change bill) was obviously made without an understanding of how perilous the consequences of a deep water spill would be.

As far as the response, there is no question that Obama owns it and the results so far have been mixed at best. Much of the coverage has focused on whether the president has shown the requisite amount of rage over the spill. Maureen Dowd and James Carville savaged Obama, with Dowd ridiculing him as President Spock and decrying his inability to reflect Americans’ feelings. Carville made a particularly emotional appeal, calling the president’s response lackadaisical, and saying, “These people are crying, they’re begging for something down here, and it just looks like he’s not involved in this.”

Obama and his advisors took the bait, attempting to counteract these claims and showing how enraged the president was about the situation. This culminated with his interview with Matt Lauer where, in a response to a question about whether it was time to “kick some butt” and Obama responded by saying that he  was meeting with experts to find out “whose ass to kick.”

On Sunday, Fareed Zakari criticized the media’s focus on Obama’s emotion, decrying how the media has trivialized the political discussion.

Aside from the media sideshow about President Obama’s emotional response, there is the question of the actual emergency response to the crisis. Without exception, there seems to be agreement that the response has been lacking. Rachel Maddow has done some amazing reporting on the lack of technology to clean up spills as well as the lack of focus on the cleanup while everyone was focused on capping the well. Images of untended boom material that is sagging, untethered and clearly ineffective were difficult to watch and her reporting on the potential damage to the wetlands and it’s impact on the region shows how high the stakes are for the gulf region.

In an investigative piece today, the New York Times described the response as chaotic and fragmented and pointed out the inefficiencies at every level with regards to the cleanup. The Obama Administration’s response team would do well to read that article very carefully. 

The next few weeks will be pivotal. Now that we know that the flow of oil will most likely continue through the summer, it’s time to focus more intently on making sure that PB does a better job on the herculean task of managing the cleanup and efforts to minimize the impact on the gulf coast.  John Heilemann has encouraged Obama to consider turning these efforts into a massive jobs program funded by BP to clean up the Gulf and to create a new national volunteer service organization dedicated to the cause. Others have argued vociferously that we need to follow Saudi Arabia’s lead and comandeer oil tankers to siphon up the oil and haul it away. To date, both the government and BP have avoided answering questions about why this is not being done.

In the meantime, President Obama would do well to use this crisis as an opportunity to not only make sure major changes are made to deep water drilling regulation and response efforts, but also to reorient the country towards a new future and begin the process of weaning ourselves from dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels.

You can pick your metaphor, but I like one I heard from a number of commentators last week. This is our Sputnik.

It’s our time to realize that political paralysis, government capture by the corporate interests and a public unwillingness to sacrifice individually for the common good has already put us behind the rest of the world in the development of green technology. We need to act now to correct this. It’s been over 35 years since the oil crisis of the 70’s and every president from Carter to Obama has talked about the need to wean ourselves off oil. In spite of the many crises and turning points that could have been a catalyst for this effort, we have failed to make the investments that most American’s agree we need.

The President needs to pivot tonight from crisis management to a broader vision on energy and then he needs to push for that vision. If Republicans and conservative Democrats block his initiatives, he should make this a central issue in the campaign going forward and continually bash them over the head with this issue to lay the groundwork for its passage in the new Congress.

This is a crucial test for this president. Whether it’s an effective cleanup response or a vision for a clean energy future, we need his leadership now more than ever.

“Obama’s Katrina”

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

I keep flashing back to this John Stewart piece about how conservatives are always looking for the perfect analogy between something that goes wrong in the Obama Administration and something Bush screwed up.

“It’s like no matter what happens during the Obama Administration, there’s the perfect Bush fuckup” for conservatives to compare it to.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
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www.thedailyshow.com
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When it’s so painful to watch, you have to laugh every once in a while.